On May 11, 2023, the United States Government will formally end the COVID State of Emergency. Put in place back in 2020, these emergency health protocols were put in place to keep the virus in check, while protecting America’s economy and public health to the best of its capacity.
Over the course of three years, the results have received mixed reception. Some feel like the policies did not adequately protect people, while others thought they were too rigid. Over the years, some of the declaration’s items have either been phased out or not as rigidly enforced.
Regardless of how you feel about the declaration itself, its end marks a turning point in the nation’s battle with COVID. While a majority of people will not feel huge changes, the healthcare industry as we know it will look somewhat different in the near future.
What does the end of emergency mean for healthcare facilities, in particular? How will facilities be affected by the retiring of these protocols?
Telehealth prescriptions will be limited
Telehealth exploded in popularity, during the pandemic. Thanks to emergency protocols, healthcare facilities were allowed to prescribe medications through telehealth, without any in-person interactions. The end of emergency will formally put an end to this extension. Fortunately, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is looking to extend these flexibilities forward, in select circumstances
Medicaid telehealth flexibilities will continue
Even before the pandemic, states were offered significant flexibility regarding Medicaid-covered telehealth services. Under their sole discretion, state governing bodies could decide the scope of telehealth coverage, how much would be covered and paid for, its mode of distribution, accessibility and more. All these flexibilities are listed on this official Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services document. The flexibilities afforded can be extremely important for individuals who live in isolated rural communities or patients who do not have the capacity to move around.
COVID-19 test accessibility will change
Free COVID-19 tests over-the-counter will no longer be available. To get free testing, patients will need a Part B Medicaid enrollment. Private insurance companies will no longer be required to cover for COVID testing, but they can opt to do so of their own accord. Similarly, mandated free-state testing will also end with the emergency protocols, but states can choose to continue providing COVID tests for free.
Blanket waivers will be retired
At the height of the pandemic, hospitals were struggling to meet the soaring patient counts, with the staff and resources at hand. To address this, the emergency policies issued “waivers” that were meant to expand healthcare access, across the board. Currently, countless facilities are operating with hundreds of these waivers and exceptions.
For example: waivers could be provided for the requirement of three days of inpatient hospitalization, if a patient wanted to avail of medicaid coverage. All this additional flexibility will be retired, on a federal level. You can expect Health and Safety-related waivers to phase out as well. Some waivers will end on May 11, while others will continue on for 6 months. However, waivers and exceptions specifically related to Medicaid may be continued on a state level, depending on what local legislation decides.
Home hospital care will continue
The Acute Hospital Care at Home initiative was put in place, during the pandemic. If the CMS approved a hospital, they were allowed to provide inpatient healthcare at a patient’s house. This was put in place to address hospitals operating beyond maximum capacity and recommended staffing ratios. Thanks to additional legislation, this provision will continue until December 31, 2024. Hospitals can still qualify for providing home patient care, until then.
Heading towards a new future
This article only touches on the direct effects of the end of emergency for healthcare facilities. Countless other policies will change the lives of healthcare providers themselves, Medicaid-covered patients and more. No matter where you stand, it is clear these changing policies will shift the healthcare industry as we know it. Some provisions will be phased out entirely, while others will continue for some time.. Until then, all we can do is do our research and brace ourselves for the coming changes.